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8/10

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Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King

I don't know whether Square-Enix and Nintendo intended My Life as a King as a WiiWare statement of intent, but it certainly does the job. Over the last couple of years we've learnt what to expect from console game download services - simple arcade hits, ports of old classics, quirky puzzle games, polished indie favourites. Some are good, some are great and some appalling, but most either feel lightweight or lack the polish you expect from a full-priced, store purchased game. WiiWare seems to be going in a different direction, with established franchises, new ideas and proper, slick games from well-known developers. If Nintendo can keep putting out products as good as this and LostWinds (to be reviewed later this week) then they might create something very special indeed.

Of course, when the Crystal Chronicles name is attached we all know we can take the Final Fantasy moniker with a pinch of salt. Like other games in the CC series, My Life as a King uses some of the trappings of earlier titles in the saga - the odd monster, the Gil currency, the weird cat-like Moogles, the white and dark mages - but features a very different strain of gameplay. In fact, My Life as a King isn't even an action RPG, but a strategy title. Think of it as a cross between Harvest Moon, Sim City and the cult PC kingdom-management game, Majesty.

The youthful leader of a nomadic people who have been wandering the earth since the miasma plague told of in the first Crystal Chronicles game, you find yourself in the ruins of a walled settlement. It's up to you to rebuild the city, fortify the people and purge your new kingdom of the forces of evil. This time, however, you won't be doing the hard work of adventuring yourself.

Instead, all that evil purging is the job of your subjects, and your business as ruler is to keep them in order and give them the resources and support that they need. Wandering the streets from a zoomed-in, third-person perspective, you can use a magical power known as ‘Architek' to form buildings using nothing but a crystal substance called ‘Elementite'. Building houses attracts families, and from every family comes a potential adventurer.

Commission them in the king's service and they'll go out and fight for you. To direct them, you can use a system of bulletin boards and behests. Build a bulletin board and then post a behest, choosing a dungeon area to target from the map, and each morning adventurers will gather in front of it, waiting to be despatched on your service. Some will come back weary and defeated, but it only takes one to finish exploring an area, clean out the monsters or do away with the boss and you're another step closer to victory.

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